CUYAHOGA COUNTY, Ohio — The Fair Housing Center for Rights and Research’s January 2020 study shows zoning practices in Cuyahoga County fuel racial segregation.
Senior Research Associate, Micheal Lepley, said it has existed in Cuyahoga County for centuries.
“I expected it to be bad, but I didn't expect it to be as extreme that it was,” Lepley said. “It's different from other racist practices and policies in that it's literally on the books of these cities.”
Lepley said zoning practices and the way they’re used reflect and influence demographic patterns, along with the white and black divide in Cuyahoga County.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down racial zoning in 1916 (Buchanan v. Warley) and racial deed restrictions in 1948 (Shelley v. Kraemer). It is within this context that white Americans came to identify apartments as a noxious use and renters as a proxy for race and class. Their solution would be the exclusive single-family use district, according to the Fair Housing Center for Rights and Research’s study.
“The purpose of these regulations is to make racist housing policy invisible,” Lepley explained. “It necessarily excludes people by race and by class.”
Lepley and another researcher, Lenore Mangiarelli, completed a the 78-page zoning study, which was funded by the federal government.
“Nearly 60 percent of land in Cuyahoga County the only thing you can build there is a single-family home,” Lepley said.
Lepley said 11 cities within the county ban rental properties like duplexes and apartments, according to city codes. He said in some cases this was done to keep people of color and lower income families from living in those cities.
“Because of the racist history of housing policy in the United States people of color have mostly been excluded from home-ownership,” Lepley said. “Cleveland is consistently ranked one of the worst cities for African Americans to live in. It's one of the worst metro regions for inequality and it's these types of things that perpetuate those issues.”
When it comes to zoning, the county has no authority or jurisdiction over what's done at the city level. Executive Director Shawn Leininger with the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission said the county does provide services to those communities and makes suggestions in hopes of sparking change.
“These issues do exist and we need to continue to think about them, but then also start to take action against them.” Leininger said.
Leininger said some communities are starting to recognize their practices are outdated, but changes to those policies won’t happen anytime soon.
“Those solutions are going to be long term. This will be a marathon not a sprint,” Leininger said.
Meanwhile, Lepley said those living in what he calls "secluded areas" will continue to thrive.
“They benefit in some ways materially through their property values, through exclusive access to high performing school districts,” Lepley said. "The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer because they can't access the things that they need to participate in the regional economy and pass wealth to their families.”